Professor Sanders with students

News & Features

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Entering college for the first time can be an overwhelming experience for even the most organized and motivated student. From navigating a new environment, to making new friends, to learning how to balance collegiate-level coursework along with a job, most first-year students are faced with unfamiliar territory. In an effort to immediately engage new students and acquaint them with college, Northeastern Illinois University offers a First-Year Experience program.

One of the key programmatic components of our FYE program is assisting students with a successful transition from high school to university. All incoming freshmen participate in the program, which incorporates coursework, community involvement and academic advisement.

While many institutions offer a one-time seminar focusing on academic survival skills alongside an orientation to the school’s resources, Northeastern’s approach blends academic content with lessons that help students adjust to college life and develop academic skills. The core of this program is a series of interactive courses offered among a variety of disciplines that count toward general education requirements.

Muddy Waters: Chicago’s Environmental Geology is an earth science course, part of the FYE program. Professor Laura Sanders carefully crafts her lesson plans for the course so that academic content is intertwined with FYE content. The class focuses on issues in water quality and quantity at the University and in the Chicago area.

“When we put this course together we didn’t realize how much excitement there would be about it,” said Sanders. “Students have a much better understanding about the water systems in Chicago and how that affects the environmental issues in the city.”

The unifying theme across all of Northeastern’s FYE courses is “Diversity in Chicago.” In addition to classroom work, students participate in fieldwork and are encouraged to utilize the many resources the city has to offer. In many cases, students experience a unique view of the city and the University.

Sanders’ course curriculum includes a field trip to the facilities management area at Northeastern. There, students learn what happens to water on campus, discuss storm and drinking water, and see how water is conserved and removed from campus.

Sanders hopes students come away from the field trip with a better understanding of the campus water cycle as a microcosm of a larger cycle. “If the students can understand it on this smaller scale, then they can apply it to the larger picture,” Sanders said.

“It was interesting to see how much water actually does come to campus and then where it goes,” said student Gabriela Martinez. “I knew I liked science, but this gave me more of a feel for what is done in the field.”

In addition to creating a rich learning experience, Sanders sees fieldwork assignments as a way to facilitate personal interaction among her students. Working in groups, students examine local sites of geological interest, including the Thornton Quarry in the south suburbs, the wetlands at Gompers Park, as well as the lakeshore and Chicago and Des Plaines Rivers. By weaving academic growth with personal growth, the University aims to create an environment where students can connect with the University community.

After a semester participating in Northeastern’s First-Year Experience program, students are better poised for college success. They are equipped with stronger study skills, new friends and a better understanding of services available at the University and throughout the city.